Why Crackers Have Holes

Daven Hiskey 14
saltine crackersToday I found out why crackers have holes.

Surprisingly, it turns out the holes are there for a reason, not just for decoration or for convenience in some manufacturing process, as one might expect.  In actuality, without these holes, crackers wouldn’t bake correctly.  These holes allow steam to escape during cooking.  This keeps the crackers flat, instead of rising a bit like a normal biscuit as the steam tries to escape; these holes also help to properly crisp the crackers.

When crackers are made, dough is rolled flat in sheets.  These sheets then travel under a mechanism containing “docker” pins that end up putting the holes in the dough.  The hole’s positioning and number varies depending on the size and shape of the cracker.  If the holes are too close together, the cracker will end up being extra dry and hard, due to too much steam escaping.  If the holes end up being too far apart, parts of the cracker will rise a bit forming little bubbles on the surface of the cracker, which is undesirable in most types of crackers.

If you liked this article and the Bonus Facts below, you might also enjoy:

Bonus Facts:

  • The first cracker was made in 1792 by John Pearson in Newburyport, Massachusetts.  Pearson was looking to make a type of biscuit that would last longer than traditional sailor’s biscuits without spoiling. He eventually mixed just flour and water, baked it, and called his invention “Pearson’s Pilot Bread”.  This later became known as “hardtack” or “sea biscuit”.  This type of biscuit became incredibly popular among sea-faring folk due to its long shelf life without spoiling.
  • The name “cracker” comes from a fateful day in 1801, also in Massachusetts, when Josiah Bent accidentally burned a batch of what we now call crackers.  As the crackers burned, they made a crackling noise, which inspired the name.  Bent was also the one who pioneered the cracker as a snack food, not just for sailors rations as his competition were selling them as.  To make them popular as a snack food, he knew he’d have to improve on the flavor.  He experimented around until he eventually came up with soda crackers, which were precursors to saltine crackers and were generally considered tastier than Pearson’s Pilot Bread.    By 1810, Bent’s cracker business was incredibly successful and it eventually was acquired by the National Biscuit Company (Nabisco).  However, you can still buy crackers made by the company Bent’s grandson founded, G.H. Bent Co.  They still sell hardtack, as well as other types of crackers; you can even purchase from them online.
  • Nabisco, using Bent’s recipe, eventually released the saltine cracker in 1876.  Their slogan for this new cracker was “Polly wants a cracker?”
  • Saltine crackers were mildly successful after being released, but received a huge boost in popularity thanks to the Great Depression.  Saltines were a nice cheap, tasty filler to add to other foods such as watery soup, to make the meal more filling.
  • Graham crackers were invented by Sylvester Graham in 1829.  Graham was farm-hand and a teacher who turned  Presbyterian minister due to poor health.   During his time as a minister, Graham developed a unique system for maintaining health.  He recommended hard mattresses for sleeping; keeping your bedroom windows open at all times for fresh air; cold showers; loose clothing; consuming only pure water; and exercising regularly. Graham also promoted a type of coarse, unsifted wheat flour, touting its high fiber content.  The main ingredient in Graham crackers is this type of flour, which was eventually also named Graham flour, after the minister.  Hence the name “Graham Crackers”.
  • The term “biscuit”, derives from the Latin “bis coctus”, meaning “twice baked”, which is essentially what many types of biscuits are.  The term first showed up in English around the 14th century. In America, the term biscuit now pretty much only means a small, quick rising, soft bread product.  In most of the rest of the English speaking world, biscuit still refers to such things as hardtack, small cakes, cookies, etc.
  • The word “cookie” comes from the Dutch “koekjes” which came from the Dutch “koek”, meaning “cake”;  cookie was introduced to English in the very early 18th century.  It is thought this term caught on more in the United States due to the strong Dutch heritage in early America.  The British prefer to call cookies “small cakes, seed biscuits, or tea cakes”.
  • Over $10 billion worth of crackers are sold within the United States alone every year.

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14 Comments »

  1. Nunuv Yerbiznezz October 2, 2010 at 9:39 pm - Reply

    It’s “sea-faring”, not “sea-fairing” and “coarse” flour, not “course” flower. Sheesh! If you slept through grade school, you could at least hire a proofreader. How do you expect anybody to accept you as an authority when you can’t spell common words?

    • Daven Hiskey
      Daven October 4, 2010 at 2:39 am - Reply

      @Nunuv: Thanks for catching those. Funny you should mention sleeping. I’d been up for about 20+ hours when I wrote this article. It always kills my proof-reading ability/grammar/spelling/etc. Happens every time I try to write when I pass the 20 hour mark or so. ;-) The curse of having a daily article site is that, regardless of what is happening, you’ve got to churn out a new article every day. I was moving to a new house on that day. :-)

    • Reality October 8, 2013 at 9:04 pm - Reply

      Just because you have a name only 2% of the world’s population can spell doesn’t mean you have to take it out on journalists. Go get some therapy and stop being a douchebag.

  2. NortLondonRemovals February 6, 2011 at 3:06 am - Reply

    Do not worry about it. I love your article and I do not care about your spelling. Why people get bothered about it? Don’t they have anything to do in their lives?

  3. bill March 24, 2011 at 7:29 pm - Reply

    Nice article thanks

  4. locksmiths basingstoke June 17, 2011 at 7:28 am - Reply

    You’ve done quite a bit of research prior to publishing this article. It’s amazing how insightful and knowledgeable article about cookies can be!

  5. Wolfman Kayl October 3, 2011 at 9:32 am - Reply

    Ah, Nanuv, flour, not flower, and spelling is not that important in this setting, the information is. To the author, thanks for the article, I have a passion for bread and baking.

  6. Rob April 14, 2012 at 4:47 pm - Reply

    “The British prefer to call cookies “small cakes, seed biscuits, or tea cakes””

    … I am British and I never heard that one before.

    A biscuit is generally a sweet thing (i.e. not a savoury cracker) which is dry when cooked, and when it goes stale, goes soft.

    A cake is moist when cooked, and when stale, goes hard. (This is an important distinction, I kid you not, for tax reasons, as biscuits and cakes are taxed differently, and there was a massive debate and a court case some years ago to determine whether “Jaffa Cakes” were cakes or biscuits and thus taxable or not.)
    (Biscuits are taxable, but cakes are not.)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jaffa_Cakes

    “Cookies” are dollopy things mostly with chocolate chips in, not as flat and dry as biscuits. A tea cake is more of a bready bun with fruit – usually currants – in.

  7. Olive September 9, 2012 at 11:47 am - Reply

    I have to agree with Rob, I’m English and study Linguistics but have never heard of ‘small cakes and seed biscuits’ to refer to cookies. Tea cakes in the UK are specifically a type of bun, like a sweet bread roll with currents. To be fair, the American term cookie is used quite widely but more usually to describe the large, soft fresh style biscuits. Biscuits are the sweet ones, crackers are the savoury ones and cookies are the big, American style ones!

  8. Ellie September 29, 2012 at 8:13 am - Reply

    In British English, the other posters are right. It actually depends how they’re cooked. “bi cuit” roughly translates from French as baked twice, as biscuits are, whereas cookies are cooked not baked.

    • Anonymouse December 19, 2012 at 10:02 am - Reply

      I can’t speak to British English, but here in Canada we use the term “cookies” as well.

      Note that cookies are not called cookies because they are “cooked.” They are baked just the same. “To bake” is literally to dry heat something in an oven. “To cook” is a more general term that encompasses baking, boiling, roasting, etc.

  9. Mark August 18, 2013 at 2:52 pm - Reply

    Cool article. Some fun info, and even the commenta were helpful. Mostly. I find that when people catch you on spelling errors in an article, It’s not so much about making you look dumb as it is making themselves look smart. Which, in turn, makes them look dumb. I’m a writer and all of my coworkers are writers; we probably do 2,000 words a day. We get 99 percent correct. Yet someone always has to say, Jeez, I spotted two errors in the paper! Don’t you guys check your work? We do, usually twice. Then our editor checks it. Then the copy desk reads it over. They actually catch a lot of mistakes.

    Don’t sweat it, and don’t bother trying to explain to them.

    I must be feeling a little bit grumpy, which is why I was actually reading this article. I’ve been very ill the past few days and it really cheered me up to read about saltine crackers which for the past two days is all I’ve had to eat; so thanks for a bit of cheer!

    Mark Newman

  10. Lucy October 2, 2013 at 5:43 pm - Reply

    British here and in all my life I’ve never head of cookies being called ‘small cakes’ or ‘seed biscuits’ . If someone said to me (or anyone round here) seed biscuits we’d assume you were talking about crackers that have those little seeds in them (they’re more a festive Christmassy thing) as for small cakes we’d assume tarts or finger buns maybe.

    But cookies though are best known to be those doughy type baked things with chocolate chips or white chocolate and are in fact my favourite! :)

    I think though you best edit that bit out or preferably put where specifically they are called that (ie a town) best not to generalise as British doesn’t mean we all know each other’s dialects and names for things.

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